Dare we even think about what is happening in our crazy world?
Once I started tackling the massive task of trying to understand just what is happening in our crazy 21st Century world, I came up with two questions:
‘Will it help me to live my life and find a way to a better future if I get some understanding of how our world got into this mess and what the problems are?’
‘Do I need to go through the pain of looking at the ‘bigger picture’?’
One thing I have learned is that top of the list of reasons why we seem to be in a mess and why change is such a long time coming is our unwillingness, or some say our inability, to think about what is causing the turmoil in our world. Don’t I know that’s true – it’s taken me some courage and determination to keep to the task!
This reluctance/inability to look is something of a stumbling block because if demand for change doesn’t concern the electorate then governments will pay little attention.
Is it any wonder we look away? How can we comprehend worldwide problems which seem so complex? How can we go on foreign holidays, eat in nice restaurants and throw out clothes when they become unfashionable unless we blot out the images of terrified and starving children?
It seems that our inability to see the big picture isn’t because we are selfish and uncaring. We see the immediate symptoms of deep-seated problems as they pour onto screens in our homes but – much like ancient Man who was only able to deal with the tiger at the door – we ignore signs of big trouble further ahead and perhaps out of sight.
Psychologists use the term ‘attribute substitution’ to describe the process by which, when faced with a complicated problem, we often find a far too simple answer. I reckon the causes of the problems in our world seem pretty complicated, so it’s easier for us to say something like ‘people are greedy.’
Another reason we find it difficult to look at the bigger picture, to get some understanding of what underlies all the problems of the world, is that there is just so much information out there! Once I became aware that I’m suffering information overload, I noticed how my attention is grabbed and directed each and every day. Leaflets pour through the letter box and fall out of magazines I buy, I pick up a free newspaper as I get on a train or bus, advertisements assault me from the tv screen, at the bus stop and on every street corner.
Is our distractibility the mental equivalent of obesity?
Matthew Crawford in ‘The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction’ sees our ‘distractibility’ in the modern world as the mental equivalent of obesity. ‘Distractibility’ is fed by a constant stream of stimuli in the same way that obesity comes from being fed junk food. It seems that we go through life constantly distracted by adverts in every available space, the back of car park tickets, popping up on computer screens, even inside toilet doors when we go for a wee!. Because our primitive instinct for self-preservation leads us to pay attention to distractions close at hand we are imminently susceptible to these attention grabbers.
Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari says:
‘In a world deluged by irrelevant information, clarity is power. Censorship works not by blocking the flow of information, but rather by flooding people with disinformation and distractions. So what is really happening right now? What are today’s greatest challenges and choices? What should we pay attention to?’
But, I soldier on in my search for ‘clarity’ because I’m reminded that Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist philosopher and politician, said:
‘What comes to pass does so not so much because a few people want it to happen, as because the mass of citizens abdicate their responsibility and let things be.’